In 1852, a group of Methodists who complained about the burdens of circuit-riding itineracy and lack of participation in the government of their church met at a residence in Monroe County, Georgia, in the central part of that state, to form the Congregational Methodist Church. As its name implied, it would consist of self-governing churches that called their own pastors, rather than receiving those sent by a bishop or superintendent. The Rev. Simeon C. McDaniel was one of its educated leaders who wrote a book  about the movement, with a synopsis printed in The Home Missionary magazine:
… I give in their own language (the CMC’s) principles:
“1. A Christian church is a society of believers, and is of divine institution.
“2. Christ is the only Head of the Church, and the Word of God is the only rule of faith and practice.
“3. All power necessary in the formation of rules and regulations of government is inherent in the ministers and members of the church.
“4. Every man [sic] has an inalienable right to private judgment in matters of religion, and all have an equal right to express their opinions in any way that will not violate the laws of God or the rights of man.
“5. The pastoral or ministerial office and duties are of divine appointment, and regularly ordained ministers in the church are equal.’ 
Thoroughly in keeping with the republican and populist ethos of Jacksonian era of the “common man,” the CMC resulted from an attempt to fit the beloved Wesleyan piety to a polity more akin to the Baptist neighbors of a mostly agricultural population and a practice held to be more in keeping with the Fourth Commandment (Philonic division), in that preaching would occur on Sundays only, and not on weekdays when a circuit rider happened to be in the settlement. The critiques and positive positions the CMC asserted were little different in many respects from that of the “Christian Connection” that merged with the Congregationalists several generations later, under a nearly-identical motivation.
But there were further differences between this nascent movement and its parent church that might be considered somewhat less salutary by modern people. In 1957, Wilton R. Fowler, Jr., a graduate student at a state university in Texas and later an official in the continuing CMC, laid out more detail about the resistance to weekday preaching on the part of the original faithful.
Attending church on Sunday, they heard the sermons of local preachers, to whom they began to look as their spiritual leaders. Some of the local preachers had formerly been circuit riders who had married. The circuits were often too poor to support a married preacher, and if the circuit rider married, it became necessary for him to stop riding the circuit and settle down on a farm. 
It might be just as easily argued, if one did not have the sense of relative poverty of Southern farm life on the one hand and the high-handed tone of Methodist leaders of the time, that such reasoning was a cop-out, excusing poor stewardship. In some respects, it was a rationalization to cover an overriding envy of Baptist freedom. But there were also theological dimensions to the dissatisfaction with the development of Methodism at large that the CMC employed to its advantage, much in line with growing conservative-populist resentment over increasing urbanity and affluence, and perhaps Southern cultural separatism, as Fowler illustrates here:
For a decade before the organization of the Congregational Methodist Church in 1852, the “doctrines of Christian perfection had been largely neglected and had become little more than a creedal matter among the main Methodist bodies.” Apparently, however, the doctrine was still loved and advocated in the rural section of Central Georgia by the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, because the men who founded the Congregational Methodist Church believed and adhered to “holiness.” Yet they had no fault to find with the doctrines of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and even referred to the ministers of that church as “good and holy men.”
(Methodism) thrived on the gifts of the humble frontiersmen [sic] and grew with their camp meetings. Few people of great wealth or social position were among its members. However, as the church grew, it prospered …
It was this rise of wealth in the church … that caused a “decline of Methodism” beginning in the last two decades of the nineteenth century. In the Methodist Episcopal Church (northern) this was expressed by the neglect of the doctrine of Christian perfection, “the toning down of the visible lines between the church and the world,” and the failure to emphasize the witness of the Spirit in conversion, thus providing grounds for “uneasy doubt concerning positive conversion” … There were fewer shouts and hallelujahs …
The Congregational Methodist Church (in comparison to the MECS) remained small, rural, and insignificant, its growth hampered by its inefficient government. However, this may have been the reason that it held more closely to the doctrines of Wesley, emphasizing regeneration, the witness of the Spirit, and Christian perfection. 
And such conceptions of holiness, closely linked to notions that the individual believer is required to demonstrate his or her salvation by testimony of personal experience and by adhering strictly to Old Testament and New Testament Pastoral Epistle passages governing personal behavior, were perhaps of a piece with early Puritan precepts for stringency in morals and conformity to harsh ideas about sin and redemption. But how could such teachings be reconciled with a body that was liberalizing as quickly on many traditional positions as Congregationalism was at the time? Further, after the War Between the States and the resulting animosity of Southerners against their conquerors in almost all parts of life, why would a group of people who almost certainly honored the “Lost Cause”  possibly be interested in uniting with a communion that embodied all things Yankee, and thus abhorrent to mainstream Southern sensibilities?
One clue lay in the lack of numerical success of the CMC, as Fowler described it as keyed exclusively to immigration to states west of Georgia, going mainly where its farming constituency could locate new fertile land, abandoning worn-out soil and overpopulation in Georgia and the Carolinas. There was, in other words, unlike its parent body, no systematic program of evangelism in the CMC.  Thus, it suffered against more organized and numerous competition, namely from Southern Baptism, a reinvigorated Methodism, and the CampbellStone Movement, progenitor of the modern-day Christian Church (Disciples and independents) and Churches of Christ. With a heavy dispersion in several Southern states, fellowship opportunities outside district conference meetings were seldom to be found.
And despite repeated boosterish claims in The Home Missionary and other journals that middle-and-upper-class citizens were abundant in those churches, a cursory knowledge of Southern religion and social stratification would suggest otherwise. To be certain, landholding was fairly widespread even in postbellum times and might suggest a level of prosperity that would be lacking in later generations after the collapse in the prices of commodities such as cotton in the early 20th century. Nonetheless, it is a sociological truism, with very little evidence to refute it in this particular case, that the more impoverished a social group is, the more likely its members will turn to more stringent and otherworldly forms of faith in order to stabilize themselves emotionally against a chaotic, insecure life. People needed emotional and spiritual comfort to help them cope when property was threatened regularly by cattle rustlers, bandits, and even bankers; family breakdown was rampant due to large size and a masculine sense of honor that provoked many husbands to abandon wives and children if they could not adequately provide for them; and high mortality rates and relative brevity of life that made people miserable and hopeless at times. Since Fowler indicated that part of the CMC’s motivation was deliberately a sectarian protest against “worldliness” on the part of mainstream Methodism, it stands to reason that a goodly part, at least, of its membership were people who identified closely with this protest against laxity in doctrine and morals induced by affluence and a desire to emulate more cultured forms of Christianity.
A hymn sung by an early leader of the movement, one W. H. Graham, while working on a farm, succinctly expresses the CMC perspective upon faith and life. This was a faith that clearly had no use for grand schemes for social improvement, to say the least.
“How happy is the pilgrim’s lot;
How free from every anxious thought,
From world hope and fear,
Confined to neither court nor cell,
His soul disdains on earth to dwell, He only sojourns here.
“No foot of land do I possess,
No cottage in this wilderness
A poor wayfaring man,
I lodge awhile in tents below;
Or gladly wander to and fro,
Till I may Canaan gain.” 
Not only that, but the rudimentary furnishings and circumstances reinforced the general impression of a destitute people, one that might be perhaps more suited for the trans-cultural approach of the AMA (as was the case in Kentucky and Tennessee) than the “red-blooded” Americanism of AHMS. As reported in an 1890 issue of The Home Missionary on an AHMS agent’s visit to Duncan’s Creek Congregational (Methodist) Church in Gwinnett County,
Georgia, northeast of Atlanta:
It is two hours and a half from the nearest railway station. It is in a section that was long ago settled, and is now increasing in population and general prosperity, although the people are mostly poor. And I may say the North does not know the first letter of the world poverty. Here it is—the church; an old “church-house” in a neck of woods, the side facing the “big road”; with ample open grounds stretching all around and shaded by the primeval oaks and pines; at the west end the tidily, tenderly kept “church-yard” where they lie who “are fallen asleep”; and no dwelling either way nearer than a good “halloo.”
Here is no town, but here are the people. They cannot go to any town for church privileges. Families are large. They believe in family religion as well as in public religion. One can easily see here that the family is the unit of society, if not indeed of the church too … They come early. They stay late. They bring ample “food for man and beast.” Dinner is a picnic, and supper too. The hours of recess are full of the heartiest sociability and uncloyed conviviality. The hours of prayer see the house full: the hours of preaching see it full to overflowing. The 8 A.M. prayer-meeting brings a houseful, and makes the neck of woods resound with praise …
… Conversions are expected, prayed for, worked for, generally not in vain. Hereabout, churches, ministers, conference, are all “for the edifying of the body of Christ” and the conversion of men [sic] …
… when they see, as they now do, that the great heart of the Congregational Church, through its other self, the A. H. M. S., “turns back to Dixie,” and when they thank God, as they do, for “the embraces of this great body,” and expatiate on Ps. 133:1, and 126: 1-3, it is scarcely possible to escape “embraces” given me as a representative, and I want to shout … 
Very few, if any, of those attributes and situations could be found in the regions where Congregationalism was most successful, such as the Great Lakes and New England.
Richard Taylor notes that the lack of worldly goods predisposed members of the CMC and similar groups such as the Primitive Baptists and the Churches of Christ toward what is loosely called the “anti-mission movement.”  Another scholar, Bertram Wyatt-Brown, gave it a more precise definition:
… antimissionism was one expression of confused internal cleavage between the folkways of the poor and their social betters, a conflict that belies the notion of a monolithic southern cultural unity in opposition to a northern counterpart …
… Among the opponents of missions were two groups that sometimes reinforced each other but remained distinctive … The second and larger faction consisted of churchmen [sic] who entertained few, or at least less rigidly asserted, doctrinal objections to evangelistic means, but who criticized particular forms of mission work. They disapproved of the northern agency system of benevolent associations on ecclesiastical, sectional, and social grounds. For the rural Methodists and nonschismatic Baptists who belonged to this category, antimissionism was directly related to immediate circumstances, and intensity of feeling regarding it rose and fell according to prevailing conditions. 
… (The) Jacksonian movement … expressed the fears and yearnings of lower-class farmers and workers and of planters and landholders who dreaded and refused to adapt temperamentally to the mercantile world arising about them. Buffeted by rising costs, economic dislocations, and new government-subsidized patterns of transportation and credit; perplexed by the steady arrival of young, alert competitors; bewildered by the walk of reform—antiliquor, antigambling, antislavery— these citizens … jealously held on to familiar ways …Jacksonianism and hostility to eastern and well-educated missionaries were both part of this same profound cultural resentment … 
More plainly stated, an argument against mission boards and strong denominations would run something like, “What is in it for us? Our money would be going to enrich people up East who think alike, come from the same families as the bankers who oppress us, or else go to far-off places we have never heard of. If God wanted that, it would have been spelled out as such in Holy Scripture.” This was particularly salient in the case of Methodism, with its hierarchical government having the potential to enforce acceptance of unwanted trends by isolated rural congregations, who were generally characterized by low levels of literacy and deep cultural hostility to anything foreign or urban. Hence, the CMC came into existence in part as a means toward cultural preservation, to accomplish simultaneously democratization without modernization. A self-righteous posture of moral rectitude and virtuous rhetoric thus became a staple of sermons and addresses in that body, as well as in large number of other Southern churches of the “common folk,” regardless of denominational affiliation. Such could not be more different from the leftward movement within Northern Protestantism, with Congregationalism as the representative of mainline liberal religion par excellence. Decades of concern for education, experience with communal living in villages, towns, and cities, and having apotheosized Calvinism and, in turn, forsaken it gave an entirely different world view to the Yankee farmer, businessman, or teacher in an entire belt hugging the northern boundaries of the U.S.
At Union Congregational Church in Mountain Creek, Alabama, in the central part of the state, its founding pastor was in fact a Confederate veteran.  The County Line Congregational Church near Hampton, Georgia continued the Methodist Protestant tradition (also that of the CMC) of subjecting its pastor to an annual election, an unknown practice in mainstream Northern Congregationalism.  Mountain Grove Congregational Church in Cullman County, Alabama, located in the open country of the northern uplands of that state, described its origin in this manner:
The community or settlement was made up of a few German families from Ohio, and Illinois, and several families from Kentucky, but most of the settlers were from Georgia having come here to enter land …
… The German families had their land dotted with patches of corn, potatoes, and later strawberries and much later cotton … The bill of fare was corn bread, wild game and fish. Cutting cross ties was about the only way they had to obtain cash for groceries. They received fifty cents for each one …
… Some of the men got together and built a bush arbor. The arbor was built on the land owned by Mr. Thelbert Bland, about a quarter of a mile from the present site (1990) on the left side of the creek. It was called the Congregational Methodist Church and had as its first pastor, the Rev. William J. Robertson of Chandler’s Mountain … All those attending the revival that summer drove oxen and wagons. Quilts were thrown in for the children to rest upon. Services were held twice daily, but none at night …
The church or arbor started off with thirty-three members with fifty or sixty joining by the end of the week. 
So, given Congregationalism’s reputation in most of the U.S. for refinement, education, and restraint, what exactly was the link between the two very different expressions of Protestant Christianity? Three ingredients appear to stand out: ambition, status anxiety, and salesmanship. The very AHMS agent who wrote the 1890 account above, Sullivan F. Gale, supplied the first and third elements, while S. C. McDaniel himself, previously the staunch historian of the CMC, gave the second.
Sullivan French Gale (1842-1909) was born and raised in Vermont and served in his state militia during the War Between the States. He graduated from Union Theological Seminary in New York and was ordained in Massachusetts to his first pastorate. In 1883 he became pastor of what is today Arlington Congregational Church in Jacksonville, Florida. Florida in the late 19th century was a boom region of citrus groves, cattle ranches, and railroads that attracted a large number of Northerners seeking new opportunities in a warmer climate than many states west of the Mississippi River. Early Congregational churches clustered mainly in the central parts of the peninsula and along the northern half of the Atlantic Coast. With rapidly forming congregations springing up throughout the state in the 1870s and 1880s, the AHMS chose Gale as its superintendent for the Florida work concurrent with his call, and Gale founded the Florida Congregational Conference shortly after arriving in the field.
Like many ministers of the Victorian era, Gale probably believed in something akin to a “manifest destiny” that Congregationalism would supply a growing, bustling nation with its spiritual needs, paying no heed to the past or traditional arrangements that had to be violated in order to meet any supposed demand of the present. A common theme in preaching and rhetoric of the period between circa 1880 and 1920 among Northern ministers was the notion of a “Christian America,” essentially a civil-religion fusion of orthodox Christian concepts such as sin and redemption and patriotic-nationalist ones, such as industry and progress. This was probably the baseline from which Gale operated his church extension program in Florida, since boosterism and optimism were practically in the water the settlers drank. A virile but easygoing faith was called for in those climes, neither the dour strictures of older Puritanism nor the apocalyptic fervor of Southern evangelicalism.
As yet, no evidence has surfaced (or likely will surface) about the exact details surrounding the first contact between the Congregational churches in the Atlanta area and the Congregational Methodists in rural Georgia. But William T. Scott, Sr., quoting The Southern Congregationalist periodical, seems to have come the closest to establishing an origin, which started innocuously enough with a CMC minister sitting in a Florida Association (Conference) meeting as a fraternal delegate. Apparently the pastor, although having been imprisoned by Union forces while in the Confederate Army as a young man, was encouraged and excited by what he saw, and approached the Conference about exploring union possibilities.  This unnamed minister thus unwittingly became a handmaiden to Gale’s megalomania, in truth a natural impulse when presented with an unforeseen opportunity for expansion, by substituting his impressions and feelings for sound cultural knowledge and intuition.
But the die was cast, and Gale and others began the wheels moving toward a union. At this point, though, the story cannot be exactly reconstructed, due to varying accounts. A Southern Pilgrimage declares that a delegation led by S. C. McDaniel and other CMC representatives, on their own initiative without any mandate from their side, visited Central Church pastor Zachary Eddy with the idea in mind.
Simeon Clark McDaniel (1837-1901) was from Butts County, Georgia, some 50 miles southeast of Atlanta. Educated as both an attorney and a physician, he went into the ministry of the Congregational Methodist Church in 1857. His main pastorate was at the Fredonia Church in Lamar County near Barnesville, founded several years earlier. Despite McDaniel’s ostensible loyalty to the tradition by virtue of his historical knowledge and deep experience, he proved to be a traitor. It would be overly easy to compare him to Judas Iscariot, but he was probably envious more than ambitious, as he saw other denominations prospering and his stagnant. With a background likely to dispose him toward the aforementioned hostility toward anything Northern, it surely took some very strong conviction for him to override such sentiments. The “deal” was cemented in no small part probably by a strong match between Gale’s expansionist desires and McDaniel’s hopes to become a leader among equals.
The last two words are significant because the most plausible explanation for McDaniel’s otherwise inexplicable behavior is status anxiety, a diagnosis he would be given by a modern psychologist. McDaniel’s colleagues were, for the most part, under-educated and simple men content with their lot in life—very much unlike him occupationally or culturally. On the other hand, McDaniel’s book contains a somewhat defensive tone, indicative of a undercurrent of personal and corporate inferiority. While never covertly expressing it as such, the sensitive reader might grasp his tendency toward overstatement of the denomination’s achievements as betraying an insecurity about them, that they should have been stronger than they were. Put another way, a more confident account would not require McDaniel to take an almost apologetic tone as he does at some points in the book. While this might be unfair to him in that it seems he should be blamed for not assuming the more critical and cynical standards of our day, it does provide a possible clue, albeit admittedly a speculative one, to McDaniel’s otherwise puzzling motivations for selling out something he formerly had valued as firmly as life itself.
In any case, McDaniel proceeded on the basis of conversations with Gale and Eddy and Eddy’s successors at Central Church to set up a way for CMC churches to depart for Congregationalism. The arena for the action was the Georgia State CMC Conference of 1887, where McDaniel used parliamentary chicanery to get through a resolution that would annex the Georgia churches to the Atlanta Congregational Union in order to form the “United Congregational Conference of Georgia.” According to Fowler, McDaniel included several Georgia churches of the doctrinally-identical Free Methodist Protestants in a three-way proposal that would establish a uniting convention, with each church getting one vote in the proceeding. If the vote was affirmative, the measure would go to each concerned church “for ratification or rejection.” The final clause of the resolution would encourage other CMC state districts to follow suit with Georgia. 
Of course the measure was opposed bitterly, especially by the conference’s presiding officer.
As a report from the following year’s conference put it,
… Said action was uncalled for in that our churches were satisfied as members of and component parts of the Congregational Methodist Church; that we had no formal proposition for union with any other denomination—illegal because it had never been agitated or presented to a large proportion of our church—but the resolutions were drawn and stipulations made calling for a convention a careful canvass made both before and at the session of conference. The pledge and signature of all delegated that could be obtained was procured—the resolutions were withheld, until some of the delegates had left and a motion to adjourn was about to be made when they were offered. When assailed by the majority upon the floor of the conference the previous question was called by the party, moving their adoption.
… Your committee does not believe that any element of a church, no matter how large, has the right to vote other members or any member of a church out of their church—that they have voluntarily joined and into another without their full consent and approval—that all members of those churches who have been so voted out are still legal members of the Congregational Methodist Church. 
But the vote passed by a 17-12 margin. Shockingly to modern litigious sensibilities, the continuing CMC made no effort to retake its churches except by deploying a visitation committee to try to forestall districts from withdrawing from the CMC.  These days, McDaniel would have been sued in a civil court for taking action contrary to a non-profit organization’s constitution, with malicious intent to destroy it. For, in fact, the CMC sustained nearly fatal wounds, setting off several years of membership hemorrhaging to the Congregationalists, in many cases occurring at the hands of churches not knowing about the circumstances and the illegality of the “merger.” Fowler estimated that in Georgia alone, over two-thirds of the pastors and some four-fifths of the membership defected to the new United Congregational Conference of Georgia.  Over the next few years, and especially in the 1891-92 period, churches in Alabama and the northwestern panhandle of Florida would join in, in large measure simply by dropping the word “Methodist” from their names. This happened despite having no introduction to Congregationalism, save the impressionistic accounts of Gale, McDaniel, Stephen Bassett, and others in the conspiracy. In those days, of course, no history or polity courses were available for people other than seminarians to take, so the ex-CMC churches might well have received far less information about the denomination than did new churches west of the Mississippi River.
As for the actual uniting convention itself, The Home Missionary reported that Central Church hosted the initial gathering in October, where some 50 former CMC congregations, seven from the Free Protestant Methodist denomination, and Central and its three surviving working-class missions came together to devise a constitution and by-laws, basically a carbon copy of that used in Florida, for ratification by the churches. With their approval, the stage was set for the February 29 inaugural meeting of the UCCG. At the meeting, the organization was established, with Redeemer/Central Church pastor George Turk becoming the first president. 
Not only was this act against decent relations among Christians, it also offended against Paul’s command in 2 Corinthians 4:2 not “to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word.” (New Revised Standard Version). From the author’s standpoint, there is nothing that could justify such trickery except the boosterism of the AHMS and McDaniel’s envy of the Congregationalists. Richard Taylor reiterated that the “‘merger’ was arranged not by either national group, but only by certain congregations in (the) limited area.”  In reality, it was only in McDaniel’s imagination that the overwhelming majority could have possibly wanted to join with a Christian body from the despised North. All the leaders involved could plausibly be said to have suffered delusions of grandeur, and the victims of this grand display of narcissism were the remnant CMC churches, who had to pick up the pieces and re-form themselves. To their credit, they did so and continue to this day as a conservative evangelical denomination headquartered in Florence, Mississippi, near Jackson.
Meanwhile, by the time the UCC came along generations later, this group of churches had been in decline numerically and as a cultural force within the denomination. Like what happened to the majority of the Christian Connection movement, the Congregational Methodist-heritage congregations found it increasingly difficult to relate to an urban-oriented, progressive-minded body that Congregationalism was by the mid-20th century, and many stopped trying. Beginning probably with Beulah Church in Phenix City, Alabama in the 1950s, one by one, the remaining congregations began withdrawing from the denomination to mostly independence, functioning as de facto community churches for usually two or three generations after secession. A goodly number, though, no longer exist, having dried up with their respective settlements as farm labor fell to only a fraction of its one-time economic predominance. Many of the faithful who sadly had to close their churches of lifelong membership wound up in Baptist (Southern or independent), Church of Christ, or Holiness and Pentecostal congregations.
Author: Michael T. Stroud
- S. C. McDaniel, The Origin and Early History of the Congregational Methodist Church (Atlanta: James P. Harrison and Company, 1881)
- S. C. McDaniel, “Congregational Methodism in Georgia: How Did It Originate?,” The Home Missionary, May 1890, 14.
- Wilton R. Fowler, Jr., “A History of the Congregational Methodist Church” (master’s thesis, Stephen F. Austin State College, 1957), 14-15.
- Ibid., 47-48, 51-52.
- As defined in Charles Reagan Wilson, Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865-1920 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1980), a pioneering work on Southern mixing of Protestant Christianity and civil religion.
- Fowler, 65-66.
- Ibid., 18.
- “Side-Lights,” The Home Missionary, June 1890, 56-57.
- Richard H. Taylor, Southern Congregational Churches (Benton Harbor, MI: self-published, 1994), 37-38.
- Bertram Wyatt-Brown, “The Antimission Movement in the Jacksonian South: A Study in Regional Folk Culture,” Journal of Southern History 36, no. 4, (November 1970): 503.
- Ibid., 511.
- The Heritage of Autauga County, Alabama (Clanton, AL: Heritage, 2001), 25.
- County Line Congregational Christian Church, 1883-1983, Hampton, Georgia, n.p., 13.
- Mountain Grove Congregational Christian Church: Celebrating A Century of Service to God and Community, 1890-1990 (Hanceville, AL), no pagination.
- William T. Scott, “Mergers of the Past: The Congregational Methodist Church,” The Advance, August 1945, 16.
- Fowler, 72-73.
- Ibid., 74.  Ibid.
- Ibid., 75.
- The Home Missionary, April 1888, 504.
- Taylor, 38.